Many have often ask me about Matthew 6:7, which Christ says, “When praying, don't use vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think they will be heard for their much speaking.” Some have feared that they have erred by asking God for the same things over and over again.
In this study, we are going to dive into this verse in its context and historical background to see exactly what Christ was truly saying.
IN ITS CONTEXT
In the beginning of Chapter 6, Christ starts speaking about those who give charity to the poor to be seen of men. He tells them to do it in secret and not to sound an alarm to get praises of men.
Starting in verse 5-18, Christ speaks about prayer and fasting. He starts with those who publicly pray, yet again, not to be seen or heard of God; but to be seen and heard by men. Pious (religiously devoted) Jews during that time would pray publicly at set times; morning, noon, and night.
He then states that we ought not to pray like the heathen do, in vain repetitions, for they think they will be heard for their much speaking. We know that the heathen are unbelievers, who worship other gods.
Christ then continues by telling us how we should pray, and ends by saying that when we fast, we ought not to appear to others to fast. But we should carry on as normal, so that it is apparent to no one that we are fasting.
What is meant by vain repetitions?
Strong's concordance has it as “battalogeo”, which means to use idle words or to babble. The words are empty and do not come from the heart. There is no purpose or goal for them to accomplish, other than to make one feel as if they have appeased their god/gods through their much repetitive speaking.
Some compare repetitive prayer to mantras, which are sacred verbal formulas repeated in prayer, meditation, or incantation, such as an invocation of a god, a magic spell, or a syllable or a commonly repeated word or phrase, especially in advocacy or for motivation.
HOW DID THE HEATHEN PRAY?
The heathen would recite the same words/phrases over and over again. In groups and alone, many times throughout the day. They believed that their god/gods could not hear them unless they spoke repetitively and often. This is why Christ said, “They think they will be heard by their much speaking.”
This was commonly seen in the pagan worship of the sun, Apollyon, and other false gods of the Bible.
Sun worship: Ez 8:16; Deu 4:19, 17:2-5; Job 31:26-38; 2 Kings 23:511; Jer 8:1-12, 43:13
When we look up the ancient religion of Apollyon, we see that believers had a certain number of beads that would be used to count the number of times they said their prayers; this was done several times throughout the day. This kind of praying has been adopted by
many different sect in our current society, the number of beads depending on the religion that is using them.
These were memorized prayers that could be said over and over again without putting any thought into it. God wants you to use your brain and your heart when you speak to him and not to mindlessly utter words.
Matthew 15:8-9, Christ said, “These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine rules made by men.”
IS ASKING FOR THE SAME THINGS REPETITIVE?
The short answer is no, but I will go further with scripture to show you.
We see in Matthew 15:22-29, a Canaanite woman who had a daughter that was demon possessed. She had asked Yeshua 3 times to heal her daughter. The first two, he told her no, but the third time, he healed her.
Luke 18:1-8, Yeshua tells a parable of a woman who kept going before a judge to request of him to avenge her from her adversary. He did not do it because he feared God or revered man, but because this woman kept troubling him with her request. He then compared the actions of this unbelieving judge and when he said, “How much more shall God avenge His own who cry to Him day and night.”
In Mark 10:46-52 & Luke 18:35-43, there was a blind man named Bartimaeus, who when he heard that Yeshua was coming his way, he began to cry out, “Son of David have mercy on me!” The crowd told him to be quiet but he repeated himself louder and louder, refusing to be silent. Christ heard him and healed him.
In Luke 11:5-9, Yeshua asks who among you will go to his neighbor's house in the middle of the night, asking that you be loaned 3 loaves of bread for a friend who has come to you in the night. And your neighbor will say, “trouble me not for the door is locked and my children are in bed, I cannot rise and give you.” Yeshua then continued, your neighbor will not rise and give you because you are his friend but because of your persistence.
In Luke 11:10-13, Yeshua says, “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be open unto you.” This word knock, means to keep repetitively knocking until the door is open to you.
So we have seen that it is not the repetitiveness that Yeshua was speaking against, it was the repetitive vain words that were memorized, not formed in the heart and not spoken with the brain.
THE LORD'S PRAYER
How about those who recite the Lord's prayer?
All scripture is good for the soul, and there is nothing wrong with memorizing scripture, and there is nothing wrong about teaching young children to memorize the Lord's Prayer, as they should be taught to do with all scripture. But once they memorize it, they should then be taught what it means and be directed to pray in such a manner that they are putting their hearts into it.
Scripture is our sword against the enemy and as any good soldier, we must keep our weapons clean, sharp, and ready for battle. However, the prayer was meant to be more as a model to how we should pray and not a prayer we should memorize to pray without thought or heart.
Let me break it down for you to give you a better understanding of what Christ was saying.
1. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name: Open your prayer with praise and worship to the Father. Because you never ever approach a holy throne without first honoring Him who sits in it.
2. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven: This is where we pray for God's will in our lives and in the lives of others. We know his will and character through scripture. We can know what heaven is like through scripture. There is no evil or corruption in heaven. Everything is perfect, in harmony, and in peace.
3. Give us this day our daily bread: In scripture Christ said that he is the bread of life, no man comes to the Father but through him. We also know that our bodies require daily substance to survive. This is where we ask for the things that we need, whether physical or spiritual.
4. Forgive us our debts/trespasses, as we for those who are indebted/trespass against us: We examine ourselves and we forgive anyone who has offended us, we also ask for forgiveness from the Father for anything we may have done against Him.
5. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil: We read in scripture how Satan walks about the earth seeking whom he may devour. We also read how there are demonic entities that are all around us, setting snares to entrap us, whispering in our ears, and planting thoughts. We ask that we have eyes to see and ears to hear, so that we are not deceived and can see the traps laid before us. We ask that we not be snared into falling for temptations but that we have the faith to escape them.
This can be as specific as asking to see an ungodly person as God sees them, so that you can love them as He does. You can pray for your enemies and ask for blessings upon them. Why? Because an offense that is picked up and held on to is a trap from Satan. By doing as scripture commands and loving our enemies, we escape Satan's trap. You can also ask for deliverance and strength to overcome any sin or temptation that is before you.
6. For yours is the kingdom and the glory and the power forever: You close with praise because once again, when you pray, you are before a throne of a righteous and holy God. He should be highly respected, especially by those who call themselves His sons and daughters.
I hope this has helped clear up any misunderstandings of this verse, and that you go forth in a stronger prayer life. Your words in prayer do not have to be those of a highly intellectual or well educated person; they do not have to be eloquently put together, they just have to be from the heart.